Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Wages and Rail Fares in the 1860's

... I have just been asked some questions about pay rates for railroad workers on the UP and Central Pacific during the construction of the line leading up to the driving of the golden spike. The questions come from one of the teachers working with the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis. They are:

Men's salaries while working on the RR: Men were paid between $1-$5 dollars per day. Immigrants were paid the lowest amount. Is this just for laying track? What were blacksmiths, cooks, carpenters, surveyors and telegraphers paid? What was a masons or a teamster paid during this time? ...

—Ron Goldfeder, St. Louis

[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The classic text on the history of fares is The Story of Railroad Passenger Fares By Clyde Freed ... published in 1942. I think anyone really interested in the subject might start with that.

For context in the ante-bellum era, George Rogers Taylor's Transportation Revolution 1815-1860 is the place to start, I think. He notes that a trip from Phladelphia to Quebec in 1816 was $47 by stage and boat and by 1860 was down to $18.69 by train.

The rail trip covered 654 miles; that's less than 3 cents a mile; the 1816 time was 103 hours; it was down to a shade over 31 hours in 1860.

Of course, the history of U.S. money and banking was always somehing that even made my eyes glaze over back in grad school.

—Jim Guthrie
[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

4/08/2008 9:46 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Back in 1860, just about anyone could print their own money, provided that someone would accept it. The Treasury only accepted hard money in payment of taxes-but then relatively few people paid direct taxes back before the Civil War-but other institutions were much more flexible. Many railroads printed their own paper money – along with stores, banks, and even some states. Because of the Revolutionary experience with inflation from printing too much paper money (how many of us remember the old phrase, "Not worth a Continental," which referred to the worthless paper money issued by Congress and the colonies to finance the Revolution), the Feds didn't print paper money until 1861, when the Treasury began printing demand notes.

Many newspapers printed guides to good and bad paper money as, surprising to say, some folks actually printed money for non-existent banks; other people created state-chartered banks that existed just long enough to print vast amounts of paper money ( ... paper money, after all, was the mirror image of a loan – it was the bank's promise to pay hard money to the note's bearer). ...

—William Bryk
[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

4/08/2008 9:50 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

... Prior to about 1870, as as been well documented, railroad fares were out of the reach of the average person. But then, in what I'd guess you'd call a "pre-regulatory environment" the railroads attempted to grow their passenger traffic by a wholesale reduction of fares.

This was well-documented in the RAILROAD GAZETTE and newspapers in that era. Haven't seen too much about it in railfan-oriented publications though. ...

—Tommy Meehan
[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

4/08/2008 9:50 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

... The times back then were different and should not be equated with today's travel. Back in the good ole days (before the gas automobile make personal travel affordable) folks did not travel very far from where they were born, and families lived close by. Only the wealthy would have traveled long distances for recreation or health, and businessmen for business purposes. The everyday person living along the ... railroad probably did not travel more then 5 miles from where he lived to visit family or to shop, though if he had a horse (with or without buggy or wagon) he probably would have opted to ride instead of taking the train. The normal family living along the ... RR would have grown his own produce, raised his own meat and made his own clothes and furnishings. No reason to travel long distances to obtain anything. The railroad's advantage to the common man was not the travel (which he could not afford and was usually inconvenient to his schedule), but the ease in which goods and information could now be brought within reach of his home. The local general store could keep items in stock easier, mail and far away newspapers could be delivered faster. When the telegraph followed, personal messages could be received and sent the same day. And for the farmer he could load his produce at a nearby siding and have it in the big town market the next day.

The only reason for common people to travel long distances was to migrate to another part of the country looking for new opportunities and many railroads had 2nd and 3rd class rates for such long distance travel.

—Donald R. Hensley, Jr., SE Steam Railroad Historian
[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

4/08/2008 9:53 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

... pay scale for the ... Richmond & Petersburg RR on March 31, 1861.

A few examples:
Annual wage:
President $2,000
Super. 2,000
Treasurer 1,750
Freight Clerk 300 and 420

Conductor 55
Baggage Master 40
Yard Master 70
Engine Runner (Locomotive Engineer) 70
Section Master 45
Master Machinist & Master Blacksmith 66
Master Carpenter 75

Train hands & Firemen,
average 1.00
Machinists 1.75
Apprentices 0.50
Blacksmith 1.90
Carpenter 1.58

No pay:
54 Slaves

—Dave Bright
[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

4/08/2008 9:55 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

... one has to be ... familiar with the context of these kinds of numbers, given how much state, local and private money was floating around in those days. It really wasn't until after the Civil War that the U.S. monetary system started taking the shape as we know it today – so there's a great deal of apples/oranges comparisons when these early numbers are thrown around.

—Jim Guthrie

4/08/2008 9:56 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

... back in the 1860s most roads did NOT routinely grant free travel to employees. To officers and directors, yes, to rank-and-file, no.

I can tell you this was discussed on a forum of the Pennsylvania RR Historical Society several years ago. Railroads like Pennsy even charged their employees for rides to work locations.

In the early 1890s, the Pennsy decided to allow free rides, at least between an employee's home station and the station closest to their work assignment. Gradually this was extended.

The RAILROAD GAZETTE applauded the idea as an example of enlightened management.

—Tommy Meehan
[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

4/08/2008 9:57 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: kylewyatt@aol.com
Subject: 1860's wages

Info on wages is pretty slim. Here are a few things I have.

—Kyle Wyatt

4/08/2008 8:20 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Albert D. Richardson, authored Beyond the Mississippi describing his trip to the CPRR construction sites, and reporting that: "Irish laborers received thirty dollars per month (gold) and board; Chinese, thirty-one dollars, boarding themselves."

"The Chinese [railroad workers] ... are paid from $30 to $35 in gold a month ... They are credited with having saved about $20 a month." —Alta California, November 9, 1868 Newspaper.

Also see,

New Castle Trestle:
Construction Payroll #94
(Charles Crocker, Contractor, CPRR, February, 1865)

Union Pacific Rail Road Pay Roll and Time Roll Voucher Forms, 1868-69.

CPRR Engineering Dept. Payrolls 1862-63.

"China Labour" – CPRR Payroll, March, 1865.

CPRR Payroll documents at the California State Railroad Museum Library cataloged in the Inventory of the Central Pacific Railroad Collection.

Other Primary Sources.

4/08/2008 9:47 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Also see the FAQ "How much did it cost to ride the train?"

4/08/2008 9:50 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Also see the discussion of inflation since 1869.

4/09/2008 12:00 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: kylewyatt@aol.com

The linked transcription of the first through Central Pacific timetable is from May 1869. Also included are fares (at the bottom).

On the inflation question, I'll note that the last three decades of the 19th century were generally DEflationary periods, so in calculating the inflation year by year, there are a bunch of 20th century years that need to make up for lost ground.

—Kyle Wyatt

Central Pacific Railroad Schedule
As of May 19, 1869

Train fares as advertised in San Francisco Evening Bulletin May 25, 1869, P.2, C.5

4/11/2008 9:24 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

I just checked Amtrak's web site and found that, on a random date in
late April, you could travel from Sacramento to Salt Lake City (the closest equivalent of Promontory) for $67 – in 2008 dollars! Accordingly to an
inflation calculator I found on the Internet, $50 in 1869 would be worth $770 in today's money. So that means that, when you adjust for the cost of living, travel in those days was over ten times more expensive than it is today! (And, nowadays, you don't have to pay in "coin" – credit cards are gladly accepted!)

—Daniel Chazin, Teaneck, NJ
[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

4/11/2008 9:34 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Subject: Specie payment

What the CP seems to be saying there is that they want "hard" money – gold or silver rather than United States Notes or even worse, local issue bank notes. During the late unpleasantness, the United States government issued "greenbacks" as well as taxing state bank notes to drive them out of the currency market. Since the greenbacks were seen as inflationary and the state bank notes could be worthless, the CP is obvious looking to be paid in specie.

The CP tariff rate does reinforce the point made earlier that rail travel in the 19th Century was not cheap for the average working man.

—Martin K. O'Toole
[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

4/11/2008 9:42 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

May, 1869 Sacramento to Promontory on the CPRR $50, Promontory to Omaha on the UPRR $81.50 = $131.50 total.

Today's price of the gold in $131.50 worth of gold coin is $5,873.

(($50+$81.50))/20 * 0.9675 * $923.26 = $5,873.

(Expedia shows today's first class air fare from Omaha, NE (OMA) to Sacramento, CA (SMF) is $1,182.50.)

4/11/2008 11:41 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Note that $5,873 is probably an overestimate, as the $81.50 UPRR fare was for currency. (A May, 1869 UPRR fare in gold coin was not available for use in the calculation.)

4/11/2008 12:07 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: Charles W. Jenner
Subject: Price of fuel

Sacramento to Omaha – $131.50 by rail 1869.

What was the price of fuel? Wood, Coal or what??

—Charles Jenner, Los Alamitos.

4/13/2008 9:33 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See, UPRR Fuel for Locomotives, 1871-1876.

4/13/2008 9:36 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

In May, 1869 the CPRR used wood as fuel for its locomotives. Not sure that there was an actual CPRR market price for wood as fuel, as they likely would have harvested trees from land grant lands, not buying wood on the open market.

For CPRR experiments with coal, see the earlier discussion.

4/13/2008 9:44 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: kylewyatt@aol.com
Subject: Specie payment

In California in the 1850s and 1860s there was a decided preference generally for payment in coin rather than in currency (paper). Currency in general circulation was heavily discounted at the time. On the East Coast currency was accepted at face value. The Central Pacific took advantage of this, purchasing currency at discounted prices in California and shipping it East to CP Huntington to help pay the railroad's expenses.


[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

4/14/2008 7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Nancy Jones" njonesgirl@yahoo.com

Who could afford to take the Transcontinental RR from Missouri to California in 1871 with a wife, 4 kids and household items? ...

5/13/2014 1:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See information about train fares and travel.

5/13/2014 1:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See related discussion.

5/13/2014 1:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Recent Messages